Voices of Resilience and Recovery in Robeson County (UNC-Chapel Hill)

University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill faculty and students are developing a collaboration that amplifies stories of resilience and recovery from residents who have experienced hurricane flooding in Robeson County, North Carolina. Robeson County is located 90 miles from the coast and Hurricanes Matthew and Florence brought devastating flooding to the area from which residents are still recovering. Our work will be informed by the stories told in other eastern North Carolina counties that experienced flooding and other water quality impacts from hurricanes going back to the 1990s, such as Edgecombe, Brunswick, Cumberland, Pitt, Lenoir, and others. Robeson is of special interest to this group of researchers because of existing networks of community partners and environmental specialists there, ongoing community engagement around its unique history and cultures, and several important demographic factors that elevate the visibility of environmental justice concerns in this consortium’s work. Specifically, Robeson is the home of the 55,000-member Lumbee Tribe of NC, the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, and it is one of the most racially-diverse rural counties in the United States.

Four objectives animate our relationships with residents of Robeson County:

  • Personify the data on climate change impacts to nurture and sustain positive engagement and education around the research conducted by environmental scientists, social scientists, and humanists;
  • Incentivize manufacturers, developers, and farmers to remain invested in revitalization of their communities, acknowledging their interests and constraints while articulating consensus that we have the power to shift the impact humans have on the environment;
  • Facilitate policy discussions across difference. This collaboration will interrogate the various criteria that policy makers use to address climate and environmental justice; policy makers balance material revenue, engineering and planning, and economic development priorities alongside the urgent and visible needs of those adversely affected by climate change events. We imagine this collaboration will highlight how those adversely affected want to shape their own futures, perhaps with different criteria in mind;
  • Lift up communities to give voice, give space, record history, and highlight and ignite agency.

As we engage in this multifaceted collaboration, we anticipate that these objectives will and should shift toward goals that community members articulate. These are simply starting points from which we can design a process that is sustainable from the consortium’s point of view.

Pending more in-depth conversation with community partners (identified below) and additional grant funding currently sought by INHERIT, we propose a method of engagement that could operate with two different (but overlapping) sets of community partners. In the spring of 2020, we propose holding a series of Photovoice sessions with Black and Lumbee educators and residents that elevate stories of resilience and recovery in the wake of hurricanes and flooding in wetland cultural landscapes. Our research thus far, in communities affected by flooding since the 1990s, has demonstrated that people want to live with their landscape, not against it.

Photovoice is a participatory method, defined by its creators as a “process by which people can identify, represent and enhance their community through a specific photographic technique” (369). It uses images as a tool to deconstruct problems by posing meaningful questions in a community to find actionable solutions. Diamond Holloman is already using the method for her dissertation research with adversely affected residents in Robeson County, and Dylan Clark has used it previously with communities in the state of Yucatán in Mexico.

Jacqueline Lawton’s expertise in dramaturgy, playwriting, and community-based performance, which she has explored in Princeville, Chapel Hill, and throughout the nation, provides us with an opportunity to follow these Photovoice sessions with visual and performance workshops to highlight and ignite agency. Further community partnerships may generate a museum exhibit and community dialogue with stakeholders and policy makers.

We propose conducting this series of Photovoice sessions and performance workshops with one of two (possibly overlapping) constituencies: K-12 teachers in STEAM, English, and the arts. Our existing community partnerships lead us to believe that Black and Indigenous community members will comprise the majority of our participants.

Community Partners (preliminary):

Lead Collaborators:

Jacqueline E. Lawton is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Dramatic Art at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. She is a playwright, dramaturg, producer, and advocate for access, equity, diversity, and inclusion in the American Theatre. She received her MFA in Playwriting from the University of Texas at Austin where she was a James A. Michener Fellow.  Her plays include: Among These Wild Things, Anna K;  Blackbirds; Blood-bound and Tongue-tied; Deep Belly Beautiful; The Devil’s Sweet Water;  Edges of Time, The Hampton Years; The Inferior Sex, Intelligence; Love Brothers Serenade; Mad Breed; and Noms de Guerre.

Lawton has worked as a dramaturg and research consultant nationwide. Currently, she is a Dramaturg at PlayMakers Repertory. She has taught classes on acting, directing, dramaturgy, movement, playwriting, Shakespeare, and solo performance. Additionally, she has taught theater residencies and professional development workshops to adults and teachers wanting to integrate arts into the classroom. She is a proud member of the Dramatist Guild of America, and is the Regional Representative for North Carolina.  ​

Dylan J. Clark is anthropological archaeologist. He is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Anthropology and currently serves as Program Director for InHerit: Indigenous Heritage Passed to Present, a non-profit program administered through the Research Laboratories of Archaeology at UNC-Chapel Hill and partnered with the Alliance for Heritage Conservation. InHerit develops collaborative programs of education, conservation, and public interpretation with native communities around the world to promote indigenous goals in heritage management, cultural resource conservation, language preservation, and the mitigation of global threats to cultural traditions and sacred spaces. Dylan holds a PhD and MA in Anthropology from Harvard University, an MA in Latin American Studies from Tulane University, and a BA in Anthropology and Spanish from Western Michigan University.

Diamond V.E. Holloman is a doctoral candidate in the Environment, Ecology and Energy interdisciplinary program (E3P) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She earned her B.A degrees in both Journalism and Environmental Studies from New York University, and her M.S degree from her current program.  Her community-based research focuses on the intersection of race, social vulnerability, culture, and the environment. She has worked with urban community gardens to examine the ways in which people in cities conceptualize their communities in relation to nature. Her dissertation examines the movement of water after hurricanes (flooding) along social, political, and historical lines. The project emphasizes the entanglement of hurricanes and grassroots organizing, centering people’s lived experiences of recovery and resilience. She is currently working in urban and peri-urban communities in Robeson County, North Carolina in the aftermath of Hurricanes Matthew (2016) and Florence (2018).